SARASOTA, Fla. - Jim Johnson threw his second bullpen session this morning, the latest progression from lower-back discomfort that no longer seems to be an issue with the Orioles’ reliever.
Johnson is scheduled to throw off a mound again on Friday, Sunday and March 7. He’ll throw live batting practice for the first time on March 10.
Yes, the Orioles are being extremely cautious with Johnson.
Zach Britton (shoulder) will repeat Sunday’s routine of long-tossing from 60, 90 and 120 feet, and simulating his delivery on flat ground. He’s mixing in other pitches besides his fastball.
Willie Eyre (groin) will play catch again today.
Steve Johnson, who isn’t dealing with a health issue, threw live batting practice yesterday and said it was the first time that all of his pitches “clicked.” The curve ball is the only one that’s taking longer because it’s more of a “feel pitch” for Johnson.
Johnson is experimenting with a splitter, which he began working on during the winter. He tried to throw it a few times last season, but didn’t feel it was the right time. Now he’s more committed to it and will add it to a repertoire that also includes a fastball, circle change, curve ball and slider.
“Now that my mechanics are a little better, I’ve been trying to throw it and I really think it’s going to be a big pitch for me,” he said. “I have the fingers for it. I’ve had long fingers, big hands, and my dad’s been wanting me to throw it for a while. I just didn’t feel comfortable at certain times and I didn’t want to add another pitch during the season, when I’m struggling to command certain pitches, so I felt like this offseason was a good time to try to work on it. It looked real good (yesterday) and I was just excited to get a batter up there and see if I could command it. And it looked good.”
Johnson, a St. Paul’s graduate, could have left the organization as a minor league free agent, but he chose to stay.
“I want to make it with my hometown team,” he said. “I had an opportunity to get traded over here and they wanted to send me to the fall league, as well, and I felt like I could go to the fall league and perform and also play for my hometown team and have a chance to make it. That’s what I want. If I had any team to choose from, it would be the Orioles, but we’ll see. I’ve got to perform and hopefully get called up, and we’ll see what happens.”
Here’s what has already happened: The Orioles have signed and acquired so many pitchers, Johnson could get bumped back down to Double-A Bowie, where he went 5-1 with a 2.16 ERA in 10 starts last season, with 40 hits allowed, 15 walks and 59 strikeouts in 58 1/3 innings.
“That’s just part of it,” he said. “You never want to just get a spot because there’s not enough guys. I want to actually earn it. We’ve got a lot of guys here and I’ll have to earn a spot, whether that’s in (Triple-A) Norfolk or eventually the big leagues. There’s a lot of competition here and it’s good for you. You don’t want to just be handed a spot. You want to earn it.
“Obviously, when you do see that a lot of guys were signed, it puts a little thought in the back of your head, but you’ve just got to go out there and pitch well and things will happen.”
Returning to Bowie would be a disappointment for Johnson, who has nothing left to prove in Double-A, but he’d make the best of it.
“I obviously don’t want that, but I’ve done it before and i can do it again. I can pitch well down there,” he said. “I just feel that Norfolk is my goal right now. The big leagues would be nice, but I’m just trying to impress somebody right now because I know there are a lot of guys here, but you never know what could happen. Right now, I’m trying to impress somebody and leave here with them thinking about me and maybe how well I did.”